Jordi Savall's bold gesture leaves me puzzled

Jordi Savall has refused Spain's national music award the prestigious Premio Nacional de Música - which is worth 30,000 euros - because of his objections to the Spanish government's arts policies. Readers will know that I am a huge fan of Jordi Savall, both as a musician and a humanitarian. But his refusal of the Premio Nacional de Música leaves me puzzled as well as pleased. In a few weeks time - as seen above - Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI present a specially commissioned musical tribute to the 14th century traveller and diarist - "voyager of Islam" - Ibn Battuta in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi. Jordi's concert is promoted by Abu Dhabi Classics, and his musical depiction of Ibn Battuta's from Morocco (where the traveller was born) to Afghanistan is being given just one gala performance at the Emirates Palace on November 20th. There appears to be an exclusivity agreement with Abu Dhabi Classics as Hespèrion XXI's schedule shows no further performances of the Ibn Battuta project elsewhere. But in 2015 a second concert of specially commissioned music will be given by Jordi Savall in Abu Dhabi depicting Ibn Battuta's further travels from Afghanistan to the Far East.

Readers will know that as well as praising Jordi Savall, I have, on more than one occasion, drawn attention to the unacceptable human rights record of the United Arab Emirates, and the following assessment from Human Rights Watch was quoted here last year:

The human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) worsened in 2012 as authorities arbitrarily detained and deported civil society activists, and harassed and intimidated their lawyers. In September, an independent monitor found significant problems in the treatment of migrant workers on the high-profile Saadiyat Island project in Abu Dhabi, identifying the payment of illegal recruitment fees as a key concern.
My same post also drew attention to the repressive treatment of gays in the Gulf States, and to the inhuman conditions endured by the foreign underclass workers who built the Emirates Palace where the concert is being given. Prior to the performance on November 20th, Jordi is participating in a conference at Abu Dhabi's Zayed University, from where an American academic who called for greater press freedom and protection for journalists in the Gulf States, was recently dismissed. Jordi Savall is just the latest in a succession of high profile musicians who have been tempted to the United Arab Emirates. However, I am puzzled as to how he finds the Spanish government's money unacceptable, but the Abu Dhabi government's money acceptable.

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Pliable said…
Related trivia: the Ibn Battuta Mall - "uniquely designed to celebrate the travels of the famous Arabic explorer" - is the world’s largest themed shopping mall.
billoo said…
You know Bob, Jordi Savall's music was what initially drew me to your blog! Khair, you make an excellent point. The irony is that if Battuta in some sense represented the openness of Islam then the Gulf states-with their funding of fundos. all over the world-represent the complete antithesis of that spirit.

But perhaps that has always been the case with the arts and its patrons?


Pliable said…
Billoo, yes indeed, I am a huge admirer of Jordi Savall. I had been aware of his involvement with the UAE for some time and felt very uncomfortable with it, and his refusal of the Premio Nacional de Música prompted me to write.

You are right that there has always been an ambiguous relationship between the arts and its patrons. But it is the inconsistency of Spain versus the UAE that disturbs me in this case.

Readers who are not familiar with Ibn Battuta are directed to Tim Mackintosh-Smith's excellent trilogy of books retracing the journey of the 'voyager of Islam'.

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